On Wednesday night, former New York City Mayor and fresh Trump legal team recruit Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News and, among other things, accidentally blew apart President Trump's farcical explanation of l'affaire Stormy Daniels. Chatting amiably with Sean Hannity, Giuliani admitted that the president reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, after the latter paid Daniels off through a shell company. The president had previously argued that he was unaware of the $130,000 hush payment made to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a Stormy Daniels, who claims the money was meant to buy her silence after an affair she had with the future president shortly after the birth of his son Barron in 2006.
The president's new story is that he knew about this payment, but that it was meant to prevent Daniels from extorting him, even though this would constitute ... very successful extortion indeed. It's like donating a thousand dollars on the spot to the "Do you have a minute for the environment?" people to get them to go away. The story is now such a mess that the president subcontracted his Twitter account on Thursday morning to someone who can write in complete sentences. "The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair."
Giuliani's own goal was notable not just for what it suggests about the Daniels imbroglio — that, of course, she is telling the truth — but also for how casually the president and his allies claim that up is down. In the context of recent revelations and presidential meltdowns, it almost certainly means that the Mueller investigation, rather than heading for a negotiated, anodyne ending with New York's febrile former mayor at the helm, will soon cross over into a new, much more dangerous phase for the president. The takeaway here is that nothing the president or his lawyers say can be trusted. Mueller is surely taking note.
It's clear the president is in trouble not just because his lips are moving and his incompetent underlings can't get their stories straight, but because over the past month he and his allies have been engaged in another of their quests to convince the public that the Mueller investigation is almost over. In that context, the hiring of the clueless Rudolph William Louis Giuliani looks like a head fake. He certainly wasn't hired for his subtlety or TV acumen.
Most unbelievably, it appears to be allies of the president who leaked Mueller's alleged list of questions he'd like to ask the president. The president tweeted that the list contains "no questions on Collusion." This statement, along with more than 3,000 things the president has said since taking office, is simply not true. There are multiple collusion questions on the list, including ones about the infamous pre-election Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, a self-professed Kremlin "informant." Mueller's manifest is also festooned with pointed questions about President Trump's obstruction of justice, from what he said to former FBI Director Jim Comey at their February 2017 meeting to discuss the FBI investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to his nationally televised interview with NBC's Lester Holt in which the president gleefully admitted that Comey had been fired to stop the Russia investigation.
The president's allies leaked this damning set of queries? It's hard to see how this could be any worse for him. Perhaps a litany of questions headlined with "How would you like your prison cell decorated?" and "Have you prepared your resignation speech?" Why else would the president be burning through lawyers like napkins at a barbecue shack? If his case is so airtight, if there really was NO COLLUSION and if the entire Russia probe is a HOAX, why do lawyers keep walking away from the case of the century?
The Mueller questions weren't the only oddity in the news. Last week we watched the unfolding of a B-plot involving the strange, and probably illegal, seizure of the president's medical records from his loopy personal doctor, Harold Bornstein, whose description of the scene is reminiscent of the seizure of the Dude's rug by confused nihilists in The Big Lebowski. Bornstein said, with the typically clueless and offensive language of anyone in the Trump orbit, that he felt "raped, frightened, and sad," when Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller and others came to his office to grab the records. Pro tip from the 21st century for the good doctor: Don't use rape as a colorful metaphor. What was in those records that they required this visit from the goon squad? Receipts from McDonald's? Prescriptions for whatever he might have contracted in Moscow?
Speaking of Moscow: Over the past month a number of critical details from the so-called Steele Dossier have been confirmed. Despite the president's denials, he did stay overnight in Moscow as part of the Miss Universe contest in 2013. When the FBI raided Michael Cohen's hotel, office, and home last month, they reportedly found evidence that Cohen himself had been in Prague late in the summer of 2016, where Steele alleged he had met with Russian intermediaries as part of an election collusion conspiracy. Cohen — hold your shock — had previously stated publicly that he had not visited Prague, producing his passport even though the EU's Schengen agreement means that no passport stamp would have been issued for travel between member states. So: It looks like Cohen was lying about Prague, Trump was lying about Moscow, both were lying about Stormy Daniels, and the lot of them are up to their ears in lies about collusion and obstruction of justice.
While Mueller continues to hold his cards close to his rotating collection of identical white dress shirts, there is no question that, at minimum, he believes crimes were committed and is trying to prove it. If his investigation is almost over, it's more likely because he's about to drop a bunch of indictments into Trump's inner circle rather than because the president will be cleared of all wrongdoing. The idea that this whole thing will be tied up by next Tuesday with the president suddenly absolved of all Russia-related crimes is, once again, a fake narrative pushed by his imbecile apologists and believed by not a single person who isn't drinking straight from the soda taps at Trump Tower.
President Trump knows all this. That's why on Thursday the president dedicated several of his presidential statements on Twitter to attacking the integrity of the Department of Justice, threatening to "get involved" with his "Presidential powers."
Wait, Mr. President: I thought the probe was wrapping up and you are about to be exonerated? No? I guess maybe it's lies? It's probably lies.